Officer Jennifer Bell and Corporal D.J. Lusty remember the night of April 9, 2011 quite clearly. The Fort Worth cops were working off-duty traffic jobs at Texas Motor Speedway following the Samsung Mobile 500 when Bell spotted a golf cart driving on the grass. She watched as the cart laden with three grown men weaved between idling cars lined up to leave the parking lot, then almost run over a person walking by. The cart almost hit Bell, too, as she ordered the driver to stop and grabbed at his arm as he passed. Lusty caught sight of the cart after his colleague radioed for help. He caught a glancing blow on the arm as they ignored his orders to stop.
The three men might have escaped had the golf cart been equipped with a more powerful engine. As it was, Lusty jogged beside the cart, at first attempting to steer it into the fence, then just jumping onto the back. "What's the problem, officer?" the driver, soon IDed as Donald Lewis, asked.
Lewis and his friends remember the night somewhat differently. They had been driving the golf cart through the parking lot, sure, but they hadn't known they were in trouble with the police. Each said he thought Bell was a lowly parking attendant chiding them for driving on the grass. And Lewis insisted they had never come close to hitting anyone, just "the dude that jumped in the way." Which happened to be Lusty.
Lusty was eventually able to stop the fleeing golf cart with the help of a four-wheeler-driving TMS employee. Lewis went on to fail a battery of field sobriety tests and blew in the neighborhood of .16 on the breathalyzer. He was arrested and ultimately convicted for DWI and acquitted on an evading arrest charge.
The case didn't quite end there. Lewis appealed his conviction, claiming that the state's definition of "vehicle" for the purposes of DWI offenses was too broad. State law says it's a crime to drive any "device in, on, or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a highway." As prosecutors explained at trial, this could include a horse and buggy, bikes, skateboards, mopeds, tractors and, yes, golf carts.
The appeals court has come down on the side of the prosecutors. In a decision handed down on Thursday, a three-judge panel ruled affirmed Lewis' conviction.
They really don't address the issue of whether drunkenly operating a golf cart -- or a horse and buggy or a skateboard -- should qualify as DWI. Lewis didn't raise his objections during his trial, they explain, so they can't be considered now in his appeal. Their language is charged with their evident glee of tackling a case of such vital import.
Maybe one day some drunken skateboard-riding legal crusader will bring a heftier challenge and ultimately narrow the scope of the law. Lewis is not that person.
(h/t Liberally Lean)